The Divine Revelation is a key to the secrets of history. There is a fundamental difference between the guiding light of the Divine Revelation and the utilitarian human insights into history. The insight of the historian and his understanding of events illuminate only a segment of the truth in the rise and fall of nations. It is as though a flash of lightning comes for a moment and dazzles the whole universe, some truths are unraveled and some truths remain enveloped in darkness. In comparison with the utilitarian study of history whose formulations are often merely speculative, the divine revelations are reliable, definitive and sustained. The communities that follow divine revelations keep history firmly in their grip. They exercise extraordinary control over history, and decide the course of events.
The Divine Revelation not only unravels the secret of the rise and fall of nations, but goes much beyond the scope of history and can equip human beings with the powers on the basis of which they can create an entire new world of their own. The statement – إليه يصعد الكلم الطيب والعمل الصالح يرفعها – points to the extraordinary power of this revolutionary phrase. As a consequence of their divine understanding of history those who want take the society to lofty heights become the representatives of such a divine mission, and for whose aid and assistance there are immense possibilities in the cosmic order. Among the earlier communities, the glory and honor enjoyed by the community of Israelites was, in fact, due to the Divine Revelation on whose strength they had occupied the seat of the leadership of the communities. As a consequence the kingdoms of David and Solomon were established and the superiority and precedence of the followers of Torah over all other communities had been established. The prophets and intellectuals of the Israelites knew it they had come to enjoy God’s great bounty and extraordinary favor just because of their adherence to the Divine Revelation. The supreme honor of the leadership of the world had come to rest with them because of the divine lights whose descent sends shock waves through human history and it seems as though the intervention of the Divine Revelation has entrusted the followers (of the Divine Revelation) with the entire responsibility of the making or unmaking of history. What to speak of the prophets and the intellectuals of the Israelites, even their enemies were aware of this supreme value of the Divine Revelation. During the second sack of Jerusalem, the fact that the enemies’ grabbing of the relics of Moses and carrying away the tablets of Torah with them point to the fact that in their minds also there was no doubt about the fact that their leadership owed its validity to those tablets. However, in the following ages the enemies of the Israelites, and the Israeli scholars themselves failed to understand that the extraordinary importance of the Divine Revelation lies in drawing insights from it and illuminating one’s path with its light, and not in regarding its texts or relics to have magical powers in themselves that would destroy the enemies and help those who have the relics or fetishes in their possession. The Israelites whom God had placed in the august seat of the leadership of the world had been criminally negligent of the Divine Revelation. Firstly, they made the text revealed to Moses subservient to their own interpretations, gave precedence to the sayings of the Elders over the Divine Revelation, and thus the concept of written and oral divine revelation led them relegate Torah to such an insignificant position that they could not even safeguard its protection and purity. Secondly, rather than making the Divine Revelation a means to chart their way of life, they tried to treat it as a collection of sacred relics and thus dislodged whatever was left of it (the Divine Revelation) from its principal objective. Thus the Israelites were deprived of the effulgence of the Divine Revelation that, at one time, passed the rein of history to the hands of its followers.
After the deposition of the Israelites, the followers of the last prophet were placed in the august position of world leadership. Since the attainment of prophethood by Muhammad till the doomsday, the Muslim Ummah has been put in charge, as a matter of principle, of whatever happens in this world. This historical understanding of the Qur’an is also a part of the Muslim Faith just like belief in the prophethood, the Day of Judgement and the Book of Guidance (i.e.the Qur’an), without which one cannot understand even the concept of the Hereafter in the Qur’anic perspective. The Muslim Ummah that has been in the process of a general decline for centuries has been a victim of confusion regarding this Qur’anic concept of history. Muslims who always believed themselves to be the chosen community found it extremely difficult to understand as to why the reins of history slowly slipped out of their hands. In the absence of the last Prophet, the tasks enjoined by him should be carried out by his followers. Then why their grip on history slackened? Has the deposition of the Muslims from the position of leadership already come into effect? Recognition of this bitter truth would lead to grave consequences for many; that is why the capricious thinkers of the community fabricated the concepts of the Promised Messiah, Mahdi of the last epoch and the Invisible Imam. However, the problem is that in the past centuries there have been innumerable claimants to the positions of Mahdi and mujaddid, but all of them turned out to be false prophets. We are still waiting for the arrival of a real mujaddid. When will he come? When will the distortion of history be rectified? How will the position that legitimately belongs to the Muslim ummah be restored to them? These are the questions staring in our face, but we have no other option except waiting for their answers. But it is turning out to be a never-ending wait encompassing centuries, for which one cannot find any evidence in the Qur’an, nor can one justify it on the rational plane of intellection.
After the deposition of the Muslim ummah from the status of leadership history has gone astray. Then, is a new prophet needed for taking history back to its proper course? As a matter of principle, there is universal consensus in the Muslim ummah that after the departure of the last Prophet, there is no scope for the arrival of a new prophet, because whatever lies in the womb of future would be accomplished under the leadership of his followers. However, in practical terms, living in this state of suspended animation and witnessing the ever dipping graph of our fall has engendered deep depression in us. As a consequence, despite believing in the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood, we have been spending this depressing phase in the hope of a Mahdi, a mujaddid, the Invisible Imam or the Promised Messiah. Centuries have passed but no savior has yet appeared. The lengthening shadow of our decline continues to haunt the ummah.
The deposition of the Israelites was an absolute command, after which the Muslim ummah was placed in its position. However, the deposition of the Muslims took place because of their mistakes of omission and commission regarding the Divine Revelation. It was their own handiwork, and this is not an absolute or final decision, because had it been so, then we would have heard the glad tidings of the advent of a new prophet. That is to say, it is quite possible to arrest the current process of decline in the Muslim community. In comparison with the Israelites, the Muslim ummah is also in a much better position because the text of the Divine Revelation sent to them, i.e., Pentateuch was subjected to all kinds of distortion whereas the Qur’an is still present with us in all its pristine purity and glory which is regarded as the “final authority after the Prophet” (حجة بعد الرسل). In other words, the light of the Divine Revelation can once again illuminate our paths, provided we muster up the courage to adopt it as the practical guide in our life rather than as a sacred fetish. It should be admitted that after ages of deviation, accomplishing such a task is difficult, particularly for those who labor under the delusion of – انا وجدنا آبائنا الأولين, and who want to adopt the same methods to arrest the process of decline as had triggered it and set it in motion in the first place.
In the history of our community spanning over fourteen centuries, there has been no dearth of events that had, time and again, confirmed the continuous process of decline. Be it the chain of clashes beginning with the assassination of Caliph Othman or the civil wars of Jamal and Siffin, the sack of Baghdad and Grenada, the decline of Mughals in India or the dissipation of Othmani caliphate – all these momentous events had stunned us into a recognition of the depth of our decline. Before we could recover from the numbness and shock of one incident, other events began to occur in quick succession so that the people who had history firmly in their grip were themselves turned into history.
It is no less surprising for the students of history that even though scholars and intellectuals in every age could be seen engaged in trying to arrest this process of decline that has been continuing for centuries, quite surprisingly, very few people really engaged themselves seriously in finding out the causes for this decline. Our scholars and thinkers did not focus on this question directly; rather, they have given much greater importance to the internal confusion and ideological crisis in the Muslim society. Shafei’, Asha’ri and Ghazali appear to be like milestones in our intellectual history, who, in their own ages, tried their best to remove the internal contradictions in the Muslim society. However, all their innovative efforts were, in fact, predicated upon an attitude of compromise that temporarily gave the impression of overcoming the crisis, but they could not lead to a radical rethinking that would impel the Muslim community towards the original sources of Islam. In practice, what happened is that the pioneering efforts of these thinkers produced new complications. In guarded words one might even say that in their search for a compromise formula these individuals, instead of dispelling the miasma of misconceptions enveloping the Muslim society, accorded them (the misconceptions) a certain kind of legitimacy. And thus we could not locate the real causes of our decline. One polemics fed another polemics. As a consequence of the triumph of ahl al-raai over ahl al-Hadith, the domination of the Ash’arites over the Mu’tazelites, the triumph of “hidden jurisprudence” over manifest jurisprudence, the new and popular version of Islam moved further and further away from its original Qur’anic model. The effulgence of the Divine Revelation was thickly overlaid with our interpretations which led us further and further away from the source of Divine Revelation and we were not even aware of this bitter truth. Those who seriously tried to understand our decline and made it the pivotal issue of their concern, even their attention was caught up only in the external manifestations of decline. Ibn Khaldun has the reputation of being the first serious historian of the Muslim community. Even he, instead of trying to understand the decline of the ummah in ideological terms, tried to understand it merely in social and political terms. The discovery of Khaldun which he designates as positive parochialism (asabiya), has been regarded as the definitive and final answer for centuries, that precluded any serious efforts on our part to understand this phenomenon from any other perspective. We have become accustomed to searching the cause of decline in political practices, and measure the rise and fall of the community in terms of the advance or retreat of the Muslim empire. That is why, even after the fall of the Abbasid caliphate, we were deluded by the Muslim rule in Spain and India. Even some well-known poets have described our strange situation of glory and humiliation as “living like the sun in the world” and treated it as the destiny of the believers. One consequence of measuring the rise and fall of the community in terms of the magnificence of the empire was that we have been unable to make a proper assessment of the ever-declining graph of our fall for centuries. We tried to understand the Faith of Islam in terms of the glory of Islam and took it to be its most authentic model. The result was – the decadent Baghdad of the Abbasid period when the ideological crisis and confusion had begun in the Muslim community, was treated as the golden period in the history of Islam and our scholars and intellectuals began to present the glory and splendor of the Abbasid period as the pinnacle of Islamic culture and civilization. For centuries, we deluded ourselves in thinking political power to be a manifestation of — كلمة الله هي العليا. As a matter of fact, the golden period of the Abbasid period was totally opposite to that of the Prophetic model. The Prophet Muhammad had been sent as a messenger not to establish the Arab empire, nor the Islamic philosophy of life had any scope for autocratic emperors and ambitious rulers bent upon expanding the frontiers of the Islamic empire. The ideological and cultural underpinnings of the glory and grandeur of the Abbasid period were derived from non-Islamic cultures and sources. It was certainly not a situation about which the Qur’an says – أصلها ثابت وفرعها في السماء كلمة طيبة كشجرة طيبة, for, ad it been so, then it could not have been destroyed by the Mongols in the twinkling of an eye. Indeed, for a long time we deluded ourselves in thinking the glory of the Muslim empire to be the glory of the “the divine word”.
Books written on the issue of Muslim decline do not generally focus on the central issue. Secondly, rather than treating it (the issue) as an internal debate it has been seen as a kind of polemics which is addressed largely to non-Muslims rather than Muslims. That is why there is near-consensus among us on the point that the main cause of our decline is our distance from the Faith of Islam, and that once we return to the Faith we would be placed in the position of leadership. One cannot doubt that there must be some truth hidden in this statement. However, the discussions and writings on the issue in terms of absolute formulations and tenets of belief give them the appearance of proven truths, where one does not need to exercise his intellect. Our return to the Faith would certainly place us in the position of responsibility. But how will this return to the Faith take place? No satisfactory answer to this question be given in terms of dogmatic epistemology. That is why despite the strong emotional appeal that the slogan of “return to the Faith” generates in us, we are unable to turn it into a practical program of action, and, in the end, we remain caught up in the external rituals in the name of Faith that our scholars and jurisprudents had presented to us at different times as the acceptable version of the Faith. These different versions of the Faith often overlap on one another and sometimes run counter to one another. In such a situation it becomes difficult for the practitioners to decide which one of the versions is the most authentic by following which the Islamic believers can once again take their rightful place in the scheme of things in the world.
For centuries a significant number of our thinkers pointed to the lack of innovative thoughts (ijtihad) and unity (ittihad) as the cause of our decline. There is no doubt that for communities that are alert and vigilant, an active intellect and the intellectual process of acceptance and refutation are of crucial importance. The understanding of the Divine Revelation provides such a parameter for good and evil on the basis of which they can face future challenges with confidence and independent thinking. The statures of historic personalities, the razzle-dazzle of cultures, the hair-splitting of philosophers and the erudite explications of the clergy may lose their credibility when measured according to the parameters provided by the Divine Revelation. This innovative and intellectual attitude is an important trait of one’s iman that the Qur’an describes at many places. The fact is – without setting aside the imitation of the predecessors, it is not possible to understand the Divine Revelation in its fullest grandeur and glory. This task was as much relevant during the time of the Prophet as it is now, and it will be essential for all coming generations too. To be fair, there are always weed that grow around the tenets of the Faith, and people begin to regard them as an integral part of the Faith. The people who had raised the banner of ijtihad amongst us, despite the lofty heights they may have achieved in their innovative thoughts, could not give birth to an intellectual tradition in which thinking and reflections on Islam would be conducted according to the paradigm provided by the Divine Revelation. The concept of an ‘absolute mujtahid’ (mujtahid-e matlaq) has turned out to be a mere dream for us, though the advent of such a figure kept us restive for ages. But we could not muster up enough courage to break the seals put on the advent of such a figure by the traditionalist thinkers. The advocates of ijtihad could not affect or erode the condition of all-embracing knowledge for a mujtahid around which a halo of sacredness was attached and that became all-enveloping with the passing of every age. Without some really fresh thinking on questions of Faith, it was an impossible task to unite an ummah that was in the grip of epistemological confusion and intellectual crisis. In such a condition, it was natural for the Shias, waiting for a new dawn, to pass through a situation where it was as though troops from the same army were clashing with one another in the darkness of the night.
From a historical understanding of the Qur’an it can be asserted with confidence that our deposition from the seat of leadership was our own handiwork and there is enough scope for its redress. However, in identifying the cause of our decline, if our gaze is caught up in a non-Qur’anic perspective, then the task of our return to the position of leadership cannot be accomplished. Regional chauvinism can give birth to an Arab empire, but the building up of a global community can be done only on ideological basis. An ideology that takes on the tone and tenor of a heavenly message, where all distinctions of time and space, race and complexion lose their relevance. The establishment of such a heavenly kingdom on earth can be accomplished only through the means of the Divine Revelation. No human ideology or philosophy has such depth and breadth as to appeal to all human minds with their individual dimensions. It would not be proper to attribute the fall of Muslims to the decline of philosophy in the Orient or the lack of a rational attitude. Shibli Nomani’s view that the causes of our decline lay hidden in the defeat of the Mu’tazelites is a simplistic explanation of a complex issue. The Mu’tazelites of a new era cannot take us out of the current quagmire however much they tried. The fact remains that in the moment of crisis of the Muslim community, the dominance of the views of Shafei’, Asha’ari and Ghazali have driven the community away from the mainspring of the Divine Revelation. The reality of our decline is not hidden in the fall of the Mu’tazelites but in the triumph of other competing conceptual modes. This alternative model of Islamic thinking that has come down to us as a result of synthesis down the centuries, owed its existence to the great role played by our scholars, jurisprudents and intellectuals. As long as Islam is not divested of all these human interpretations and rediscovered purely on the paradigm of the Divine Revelation, it will not be possible for us to work our way back to the position of leadership.
The difficulty is that the influence of the past sits like a solid rock on our educational and cultural heritage and practices. It seems as though for undertaking any study of the Faith and related affairs one must return to the earlier centuries. That is why those who want to arrest the current process of decline in the ummah do not find any appeal in the cultural heritage of the past or in the structures derived from it. In the new world, the cultural or juridical Islam is not seen as a practicable concept. That is why, to overcome this impasse, such innovators prefer to adopt secular epistemology in their analysis of the phenomenon. But a new epistemology always brings with it new concepts. During the last three centuries, our efforts to revive and revitalize the Ummah have been greatly hampered by the excessive deployments of alien models. As a result, instead of reclaiming the one ideological Qur’anic Ummah, in the twentieth century, we have seen the emergence of many parallel and conflicting ‘Islamic Movements’. The creation of the OIC or D-8 owe much to an episteme which is not only alien but those who work within this episteme have no knowledge at all of the nature and magnitude of our decline. Our intellectual heritage might be worn out and our social institutions might give us a medieval feel, but we should not lose sight of they fact that there also lies an undercurrent of continuity that connects us to the early era of Islam. Our attitude towards our intellectual and cultural heritage must take account of the fact that while on the one hand it contains serious instances of our deviations from the true path, on the other hand, the same sources also contain a history of an undercurrent of continuity through generation after generation since the time of the Prophet. To identify this strand of continuity is a complex task that will require extreme sensitivity on the part of the thinkers, and all the insights in this regard must be derived from within the Divine Revelation. Otherwise, our extreme urge for getting out of the state of current decline will bog us down in the delusions and misconceptions of the contemporary times. And if we get caught up in the misconceptions of the contemporary times, then just as in the past, the Greek rationalism had blocked our growth for close to one hundred and fifty years, in the same way it will take quite a long while for us to come out of the contemporary delusions.
There is no doubt that the strong hold of traditional thinking on our cultural and intellectual inheritance had caused us great harm in the past, and will also stand in the way of a new beginning in future. However, the remedy for this does not lie in the fact that we should dismiss altogether this heritage encompassing many centuries. What is needed is that we make a revaluation of the earlier formulations and with an open mind and utmost generosity reassess them in the light of the Divine Revelation. Right in the earlier centuries of Islam there had developed some fundamental errors in our concept of knowledge that in the later years blocked the way for fresh and original thinking. In the foregoing discussions, we have pointed out how, in the second half of the first century Hijra, scholars with the knowledge of reports and practices were accorded special importance. The close attachment of Muslims with the time and practices of the Prophet allowed traditionists to occupy a position of prominence. In the Abbasid period when mediocrity had invaded all levels of the Muslim society, the gulf between the mundane and spiritual affairs consistently widened. The same mediocrity was discernible in the concept of knowledge in Muslim society. The Islamic scholars and jurisprudents considered themselves worthy of special status and honour with reference to their preoccupation with issues relating to Faith. The compilation and editing of reports and commentaries of jurisprudence were treated as the pinnacle of knowledge. Those who responded to the Qur’anic invitation to explore the universe and undertook reflections and cogitations on the functioning of the universe began to suffer from a sense of guilt. It was as though they had adopted an inferior branch of knowledge as their sphere of reflection in preference to a superior branch (of knowledge). Another harm caused by this strand of thought was that the practitioners of non-fiqhi knowledge became totally indifferent to the Divine Revelation. In their way of life they were seen to be liberal minded, in contradistinction to the way of life adopted by Islamic scholars and jurisprudents. If on the one hand Ibn Rushd, Farabi and Ibn Sina were seen to be liberal thinkers in the Muslim culture and severed their relationship with the Divine Revelation, on the other, Islamic scholars committed the mistake of treating the interpretations of the predecessors, rather than the Divine Revelation, as the basis for all religious knowledge. In the earlier pages we have described in considerable detail how reports and jurisprudence had been accepted by Muslims as absolute rules to govern religious life. It was given out that the jurisprudents, scholastics and mystics have squeezed out all the meanings from the Qur’an and that whatever one found in their books were simply the tenets of Qur’anic guidance rendered in simple language. As mediocrity became the prevailing norm, it left serious and far-reaching consequences behind it. Centuries have passed but we still live in a state of denial about the supremacy of the knowledge that deals with the elements of the universe and consider it an inferior branch of knowledge existing outside the Qur’anic paradigm. If the ummah that has been placed in the position of leadership develops a guilty conscience about the knowledge that would allow it power over the elements of Nature, then its deposition from the position of leadership is but to be expected. The Israelites had also been the victims of such a misconception in the context of the Torah. Even now, in the circle of the orthodox Jews, the primary aim of life is taken to be gaining the theological knowledge of the Torah, which they regard as the fundamental text of their religious life. Those who are engaged in the tasks of worldly life to earn their livelihood are looked down upon by them and their tasks are branded anti-Torah and worthless. Such worldly tasks can have any validity only when the money earned through them is spent in the service of those who are engaged in the study of the Torah. According to this view, the efforts to acquire any kind of knowledge apart from the theological knowledge of the Torah should be characterized as sinful activity. In the Eastern Europe of the eighteenth century there was an intense debate about whether the study of any other books except those dealing with religion should be allowed or not. The Israeli jurisprudents struck a solution out of this impasse by prescribing that books of secular knowledge that were needed to be studied might be allowed to be read at the times and places at which it was forbidden to read the Torah. And so, in this age and time, many Jewish scholars suffer from constipation. For studying secular literature they are seen to spend hours in the lavatory. This juridical stratagem of the rabbis has resulted in an explosion of knowledge among the Jews. In a short time, a significant number of intellectuals have come of them. Even though among the orthodox circles, the guilt regarding secular knowledge still persisted, but the hold of the orthodox Jews among the common people gradually slackened. For activating the Muslim mind, it is not necessary to take the help of this Jewish experience. What is necessary, however, is that the misconceptions that have developed amongst us about knowledge should be re-examined in the light of the Divine Revelation. Only then will it be possible for us to rejuvenate our stagnant minds and take up the new challenges.
The rediscovery of the Divine Revelation can release us from the alien paradigm in which Muslim thinking has been revolving for centuries. The alien models that we borrow to arrest the process of our decline propel us further into the bog of newer complications. That is to say our thinking has moved away from the Qur’anic paradigm, and has got trapped in a vicious circle. It is regrettable that we are not aware of the gravity of this situation. For centuries we have got so accustomed to mediocrity in our thinking and practice that the apparent contradiction in our thought and practice seem to us to be the norm in the Islamic life. In this situation we may adopt a certain course of action to stop our decline but can be seen to negate it in the next moment. When the light of the Divine Revelation get dimmed, one cannot see the contradiction between his thought and action, nor can he find any definite parameters on the basis of which one can make a critical reassessment of himself.
In the last three hundred years the Muslim ummah made many sacrifices in different parts of the world. All these efforts at revival came to light sometimes as a movement against oppressive rule and sometimes as a movement to establish an Islamic state. Despite great sacrifices made by Muslims if in the future years these movements were overshadowed by the notions of Muslim nationalism, Arab nationalism or nation-state, its main cause was that in spite of all the anxious efforts Muslims could not identify the core issue. Their attention was caught up in the external manifestation of things. They mistook the symptoms to be the real malady. The notion of Muslim nationalism is, in fact, borrowed from jurisprudence which can neither encompass the heavenly character of Islam, nor can the common Muslims have any appeal for this particular model of juridical Islam. In such a situation if the sacrifices made by our distinguished figures could not produce the desired result, its main cause lies in the fact that our best minds had charted out the course of action merely on the strength of their intellect and sagacity. There were no notable efforts at making a revaluation in the light of the Divine Revelation and solving problems through it. The juridical concept of Faith not only deprives us from the eternal fountain spring of the Divine Revelation, it also makes the followers of the Faith indulge in internecine clashes. The juridical Islam has produced factionalism, parochialism and intolerance among Muslims. Today, if different groups of the ummah take pride in their factional identity rather than the collective identity of Muslims, the reason lies in this that they have severed their relationship with the Divine Revelation. Books of jurisprudence and factional literature can only inflame sectarian passion. It will be futile to expect that they can propel the believers into action as one ummah. The Shias or the Sunnis, or the Shafei’ites sects or factions within them – all of them profess the Qur’an to be the key to their thought and practice, however, in practical terms, all of them have produced collections of books exclusive to their own sects or factions. The mission spearheaded by different sects is mainly carried out by these books. The status of the Qur’an is that of a book of benediction that is considered equally reliable by all; however, they do not take help from it to organize their religious lives in any decisive way. The original source of guidance has been suspended and spurious books of guidance have supplanted it. As a consequence, the ummah has always remained in a state of confusion. There is lack of trust even among the believers. If our forged unity breaks immediately after our encounter with the enemy, our swords clash with one another, the Muslims of one sect raid and pillage the mosque of another sect and consider the murder of Muslims belonging to other sects permissible, then all this is due to the decadent concept of Islam which is the product of parochial and sectarian Islamic literature. Every group has concocted a cast amount of literature consisting of reports and practices, sanctified by the sayings of the Elders, to prove itself right and to humiliate others and even declare them infidels. As long as these additional sources of religious knowledge will continue to be regarded as reliable, the ummah cannot find release from the internal ideological crisis and confusion. All our efforts towards arresting the process of our decline and revival of the past Muslim glory will be lost in this confusion. Turning indifferent to the Divine Revelation we can, at best, fight the battle of Muslim nationalism which will sometimes take on the complexion of anti-colonial struggle, and at other times, the complexion of moral, cultural, linguistic or regional nationalism. Sometimes it may even take the complexion of a struggle between the Orient and the Occident. The additional religious literature can be used to accentuate the identity of smaller groups. This can create difficulties for the enemies of Islam; however, it will not have enough strength to build a universal movement encompassing the best and the righteous minds of all Muslim groups and factions so that it can take on the aspect of a collective mission. In its extreme form, the religious thinking of which we have been the victims for centuries can only produce international anarchy. It can serve a death blow to the current world system, but it does not have enough strength within it to bring in an alternative system. The fact is – all those who made commendable efforts in the past centuries to arrest our decline have hardly tried to rediscover the loftiness and relevance of Islam beyond the paradigm provided by jurisprudence. For discovering this eternal Islam, it is essential that our minds and hearts should be ready to accept the challenges offered by the Divine Revelation. This will require a rollback of additional religious literatures. In other words, as long as the believers are not ready do away with their self-styled group identities, as long as the Shias can rise above their Shi’ism and the Sunnis can rise above their Sunnism, the construction of a real and enduring Islamic identity will not be possible, nor will it be possible for the Muslims who have been the victims religious distortion for centuries, to return to the Qur’anic paradigm.
Recognizing the different dimensions of decline calls for a new way of thinking. The concept of a timeless Islam that was completed with the prophethood of Muhammad and the process of transformation of the society that had begun in his hands had had their continuous impact on the human history. Despite the onset of decadence in Muslim thinking and the construction of juridical Islam, the hallowed objective of لقد كرمنا بني آدم had always drawn goodly people to itself in different parts of the world at different moments in history. In the modern world which is shaped, to a great extent, by the West, we often hear of human rights, individual freedom, women’s rights, rights of children, and of religious, cultural and political freedom. But we must remind ourselves that these concepts had not come into being after the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century. Rather, in popularizing these concepts and the fact that human beings have now greater avenues for their self-expression than ever before are the results of the movements spearheaded by the prophets, and in Muhammad’s message one finds the scope for the realization of the infinite possibilities in men. Islam is not only the religion of those who call themselves Muslims in a juridical sense, but all the pious souls can take refuge in it and share in the blessings of God, provided they, by their words and actions, have surrendered to Him. Not only that. Their virtuous practices would allow them to be counted among the blessed souls about whom the Qur’an said: ليسوا سواء من أهل الكتب امة قائمة يتلون آيات الله آناء الليل وهم يسجدون. يؤمنون بالله واليوم الآخر ويأمرون بالمعروف وينهون عن المنكر ويسارعون في الخيرات وأولئك من الصالحين (Aale Imran: 113, 114). It is urgently needed that we must stop treating Islam as an ideological badge or declare it to be the badge of a communal or national identity, and look at it from the point of view of an eternal and heavenly movement with its own ideology. There is great scope in the Qur’anic paradigm that, beyond the juridical Muslims, it would provide shelter to all those who sought His refuge (aslamna) irrespective of their race, complexion, place of origin or factional identity. In opposition to infidelity (kufr), the unity of the believers can be worked out not through a juridical perception of Islam but through the eternal framework of the Divine Revelation. As long as we are unable to access the Islam that is above human interpretations, that has not been veiled by human accretions, we will neither be able to understand the Divine Revelation in all its comprehensiveness, nor can any way be found to implement the eternal objectives of Islam in the world. In other words we must first know the Islam that emanates from within the two covers of the Divine Revelation (i.e., the Qur’an). And that would be the actual concept of Islam if it had not been transformed or intervened by the writings of thinkers like Shafei', Tabari, Ash’ari, Ghazali, Ibn Taimiya and others like them.
01 Nov 2006
P.S. (Due to the prolonged illness of Dr. Rashid Shaz this month’s editorial is a pull-out from the author’s forthcoming book The decline of Islam and the Derailing of History. Dr. Shaz is back from the hospital but it will take sometime to resume his work. InshaAllah our readers will get fresh editorial articles, as usual, from the next issue.)